Saturday, June 18, 2016

Chasing The Past

Last year I jumped back into art in a big way, buying supplies, and trying out new media -- new to me -- and kept coming back to where I began 50 years ago when I discovered I could draw. As with everything in my life, I went from drawing pictures out of my piano lesson books to Sunday comics in the newspaper and eventually right into painting portraits in oils with brushes and pigments and linseed oil. I didn't know all the techniques and how it all went together and I plunged ahead experimenting with canvas boards and stretched canvas and eventually buying canvas and frames and stretching canvas on my own. Good thing I had a job by then at the age of 15 and bought my own supplies. The supplies that come in a single Xmas gift of painting materials didn't last long. I got a scholarship to the Columbus College of Art and Design when I was in 9th grade at Westmoor Junior High and our first lessons were in soft pastels.

I fearlessly attacked still life and more portraits, drawing fellow classmates when I'd finished with the model posing at the front of the class. Hands a dozen different colors and scattered sheets with finished portraits and the occasional still life. I raced through everything with an ability I never questioned and didn't appreciate -- or fully understand. I was in my element, testing the waters of various artistic disciplines offered in the art classes in high school. Never enough, I experimented with sculpting clay (and plaster of Paris at home), cutting lineoleum blocks for block printing (still have the scar where I gouged out a hunk of skin over the knuckle of my right index finger), screen printing, and finally into painting again, at home with the oils and frustrated with acrylics because they dry too fast and end up looking like hunks of stretchable plastic. Watercolor was fun, but we never had enough time in class -- or in the classes at OSU where I got my first taste of live nude models on Saturdays all summer long. I never learned about using negative space or glazing or dead layer (grisaille) paintings that lie beneath the glazes.

Here I am after nearly 40 years of ignoring the artistic abilities seething just beneath the adult facade of wife, mother, and working to earn a living because it's the mature thing to do, give up dreams for the reality of making a living that I stumbled through half alive. Art won't make me a living or feed my children and neither will writing. "Wake up, girl. Get a job and make sure to marry some guy who will take care of you. You won't make it any other way."

My hands were always moving, picking up a pencil to sketch an interesting face in TV Guide or Woman's Day or evenPlaygirl.  I couldn't help myself. No matter how I ignored the pull of the pencil an interesting face and whatever pen or pencil was closest to hand, even crayons on occasion, I sketched what interested me and hid it, put it away in a book or left it laying around until someone else put it in the trash. The drawings were more mature, more refined than what I produced as a teenager. I clung to the knowledge that even as I got older the art would always be there and would get better as I matured and viewed the world from a different perspective. It would wait for me --

-- until I took another plunge into the artistic stream when there was no one to stop me, to remind me I had obligations, to tell me no and found that my drawing skills had atrophied. The art didn't wait for me and I wasn't about to let go after I got used to the idea that I'd have to start all over.

Some of the skill remains beneath the rust and dust and I scraped it all away, dusted my atrophied skills, and did what I never had to do before when I was younger. I drew the same thing over and over, taking it apart and drawing the parts that make up the portrait. An eye drawn repeatedly, first the right and then the left, until I approached something almost like the photo. Lips in colors. Lips in pencil. Lips in charcoal. Refining the technique and the anatomy one feature at a time.

A year ago I finished this drawing -- in colored pencil, a medium I am not yet completely comfortable with -- and the features are distorted. Disheartening, but it was a first effort.

Click on the pictures to ee the actual size. 

Talk about a square jaw. I got that down, but it's still wrong. The proportions aren't too far off, but they're still not right. I sketched other faces from my desk calendar, pictures of my granddaughters pulled from Facebook, pictures of my grandchildren, Sierra and Connor, whatever picture stirred my juices.  I still hadn't conquered this portrait. It took me 6 months to get up the gumption to try it again. 

I can't tell you how many times I practiced the eyes, nose, ears, lips, chin, and ear and finally ended up with this version. I erased so many time I thought I'd ended up with fuzzy almost there lines and would never get to the point where I was satisfied. I covered pages and pages of facial features, my Great Aunt Ann's facial features. Still not there.

Getting closer. Still not happy with the eye and the lips aren't quite right. I saw my mother in every line, recognized her eyes that looked liked Aunt Ann's eyes. Of course, she was Grandpa's sister and Mom looked so much like her. I didn't realize at first why the proportions were off. I figured it out when I noticed the cheeks weren't full enough and the double chin was minus the other chin. Aunt Ann's hair was just like Mom's, the same dark brown, thick and perfectly coiffed. Aunt Ann owned a chain of beauty shops and she had learned much over the years she ran those beauty shops. She knew fashion and style and how to fix hair. She was always perfectly turned out.

Yes, that is a mink coat. I still have her black ostrich feather hat, the one that still has the haute couture label in it and looks like it was worn by Betty Grable or Katharine Hepburn or even Grace Kelly. It was the height of style in the 1930s and would've been a lovely contrast with Ginger Roger's blonde locks, dramatic. 

The angle of the photo is off, shot from too far below, but the finished result is really close. Not perfect, but an improvement on the one I did 6 months ago. It's in pencil because I'm comfortable and have lots of experience with pencil. I'll give the colored pencil version a shot again now that I'm almost there or I'll break out the oils and do a painting to hang on the way. If it turns out subpar I can always paint something else over it and give acrylics another shot. Or maybe charcoal.

That is as close as I'll get on this version, and it's really close this time. I'm happy enough with it to sign my name and add the date. Still a bit rusty, but much of the rust has been gouged off and the art is still there ready to be honed. I'll jump right into the middle of the stream with one of the media I haven't tried. I even got some pastels and will eventually get a set of pastel pencils. I like control and I like pastels -- or at least I used to like pastels. 

Time to scrape off more of the rust and chase down the old enthusiasm and intrepid nature. At least I'm willing to bear the erasures and scraping off layers of paint and dive in again. There no reason not to, except the urge to write another book or finish one of the several books I've started already. Rust gets into the most surprising places. I should buy a wire brush and get to scraping.

That is all. Disperse.